What happens to victims whose lives are taken prematurely due to accidents or other causes?

Shortly after Abdu’l-Baha arrived in America in 1912, news came of the sinking of the Titanic. Interestingly, some Baha’is had offered to secure his passage to New York on the ship’s maiden voyage, but he had chosen another vessel instead. He made the following remarks about the disaster:

Within the last few days a terrible event has happened in the world, an event saddening to every heart and grieving every spirit. I refer to the Titanic disaster, in which many of our fellow human beings were drowned, a number of beautiful souls passed beyond this earthly life. Although such an event is indeed regrettable, we must realize that everything which happens is due to some wisdom and that nothing happens without a reason. Therein is a mystery; but whatever the reason and mystery, it was a very sad occurrence, one which brought tears to many eyes and distress to many souls. I was greatly affected by this disaster. Some of those who were lost voyaged on the Cedric with us as far as Naples and afterward sailed upon the other ship. When I think of them, I am very sad indeed. But when I consider this calamity in another aspect, I am consoled by the realization that the worlds of God are infinite; that though they were deprived of this existence, they have other opportunities in the life beyond, even as Christ has said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” They were called away from the temporary and transferred to the eternal; they abandoned this material existence and entered the portals of the spiritual world. Foregoing the pleasures and comforts of the earthly, they now partake of a joy and happiness far more abiding and real, for they have hastened to the Kingdom of God. The mercy of God is infinite, and it is our duty to remember these departed souls in our prayers and supplications that they may draw nearer and nearer to the Source itself.

. . .

Furthermore, these events have deeper reasons. Their object and purpose is to teach man certain lessons. We are living in a day of reliance upon material conditions. Men imagine that the great size and strength of a ship, the perfection of machinery or the skill of a navigator will ensure safety, but these disasters sometimes take place that men may know that God is the real Protector. If it be the will of God to protect man, a little ship may escape destruction, whereas the greatest and most perfectly constructed vessel with the best and most skillful navigator may not survive a danger such as was present on the ocean. The purpose is that the people of the world may turn to God, the One Protector; that human souls may rely upon His preservation and know that He is the real safety. These events happen in order that man’s faith may be increased and strengthened. Therefore, although we feel sad and disheartened, we must supplicate God to turn our hearts to the Kingdom and pray for these departed souls with faith in His infinite mercy so that, although they have been deprived of this earthly life, they may enjoy a new existence in the supreme mansions of the Heavenly Father.

Let no one imagine that these words imply that man should not be thorough and careful in his undertakings. God has endowed man with intelligence so that he may safeguard and protect himself. Therefore, he must provide and surround himself with all that scientific skill can produce. He must be deliberate, thoughtful and thorough in his purposes, build the best ship and provide the most experienced captain; yet, withal, let him rely upon God and consider God as the one Keeper. If God protects, nothing can imperil man’s safety; and if it be not His will to safeguard, no amount of preparation and precaution will avail. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 46-48.

In a letter to two Baha’is, Abdu’l-Baha explained that those whose lives are cut short still receive divine mercies:

The inscrutable divine wisdom underlieth such heartrending occurrences. It is as if a kind gardener transferreth a fresh and tender shrub from a confined place to a wide open area. This transfer is not the cause of the withering, the lessening or the destruction of that shrub; nay, on the contrary, it maketh it to grow and thrive, acquire freshness and delicacy, become green and bear fruit. This hidden secret is well known to the gardener, but those souls who are unaware of this bounty suppose that the gardener, in his anger and wrath, hath uprooted the shrub. Yet to those who are aware, this concealed fact is manifest, and this predestined decree is considered a bounty. Do not feel grieved or disconsolate, therefore, at the ascension of that bird of faithfulness; nay, under all circumstances pray for that youth, supplicating for him forgiveness and the elevation of his station. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 199-200.

By no means did Abdu’l-Baha intend to encourage complacency about the suffering inflicted by oppressors. On the contrary, both he and Baha’u’llah exhorted humanity to establish justice in the world.

When we are in the midst of tests and afflictions it can be difficult to remember that their real purpose is to help us draw nearer to God and thereby find true happiness. Yet these very challenges can lead us to greater spiritual understanding, provided that we turn to Him. With the help of God, we can find the strength to rise above our challenges and become better and happier human beings.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

1 Comment

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  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Nov 26, 2017
    Thank you very much Kenneth, I enjoyed reading your article and in my own crude thoughts have always 'seen' disasters as being God's way of guiding us back to Him. I know it is hard at times and we all feel so over whelmed with the 'goings on' around the world at this time, but as Baha'i's we were given warning that we were in very troubled times as this old world order is being wrapped up. I sincerely hope to read more of your thoughts as we all need these reminders.